Monthly Archives: August 2015

Arepas con Plátanos y Frijoles o Pollo y Guasacaca

K…so obviously Spanish is not my first language. 🙂  Maybe that should read “arepas con plátanos y caraotas o reina pepiadas y guasacaca”.  Or maybe I should have mentioned “pabellón” or “pabellón criollo” somewhere in there…  Whatever.  What I meant to say was “arepas with plantains and beans or chicken and guasacaca.”  That’s what I made, and that’s what I hope to share with you today.

There’s a restaurant that a friend and I typically visit when we want to catch up.  It is pretty much our hotspot.  That restaurant is Arepera.

Arepera is a Venezuelan restaurant in the Plateau area of Montreal.  It’s one of the few places I know where I can go get a soursop (guanabana) drink or authentic mango juice.  It has many vegan, vegetarian options and gluten-free options.  It was also the place where I was introduced to the magic and wonder of the arepa.

Arepas are little corn cakes/bakes, almost like Colombia’s/Venezuela’s version of the Jamaican fried dumpling.  It’s eaten in much the same way — as a snack as a side dish or as part of a meal.  It can also be stuffed with any number of yummy foods — from avocados to cheese to salmon to beans…you name it, you can put it into an arepa. For some ideas, see here, here, and here.

This is what I ordered last time I went to Arepera:

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Then it hit me — I could easily make this at home!  So I tried, and this was the result:

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Beans, brown rice, fried plantain, chicken and guasacaca with a cornmeal arepa (before I actually knew how to make arepas and figured out what type of corn flour I was actually supposed to use…your regular, run-of-the-mill cornmeal just won’t cut it).

But still, I hadn’t mastered how to make the famed arepa.  So I called up (who does that these days?) What’s Apped my friend who comes from Colombia and begged her to teach me her ways…she agreed and she taught me how to make arepas.  I think I can now say that I’m an expert. 🙂

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I like to fill my arepas with fried ripe plantains, cooked black beans, slices of avocado, shredded poached chicken, guasacaca or any combination thereof.  This is how you make ’em:

Arepas

2 cups pre-cooked P.A.N. white corn arepa flour (masarepa, masa de arepa, masa al instante, or harina precocida) as pictured above (you must get this particular type of flour, which can be found at ethnic food stores.  I bought mine at Adonis in Montreal.  Regular cornmeal or cornflour or masa harina just won’t do).

1 – 1 1/2 cups warm water (you can add more if you find that your dough is too dry)

1/2 cup butter or margarine or coconut oil (you can use Earth Balance, but remember that EB is naturally salty)

1 tsp of salt (or more to taste)

Cheese (vegan, like Daiya cheddar, if necessary) (optional)

There are instructions on the back of the package, but here’s what I did:

  1. Put all of the ingredients into a bowl and knead until you get a smooth, moist dough with an even consistency.
  2. Roll your dough into small balls.
  3. Flatten the dough balls into little rounds of 1 cm to 2 cm thickness (the thickness is up to you; I like my arepas on the thicker side so it’s easier to cut into them and fill them later).  You can flatten the dough between two plastic bags or use parchment paper so that they don’t stick.  I find that pressing a cutting board on top of them to flatten it is easier than using a rolling pin.  The arepa should be about the size of your palm.  It will probably have cracks around the edges.  You can either do one of two things: 1) use a small bowl to cut out perfectly round circles with smooth edges (that’s why I did as depicted in the photos just above) or 2) wet your hands and gently go around the arepa, smoothing and sealing any cracks.
  4. Place your arepas in your non-stick pan or a lightly-greased pan on medium heat.  Cook for 2 mins each side (approx).  Your arepas are done when they are slightly browned on each side.
  5. Serve hot.  Carefully (’cause they’re HOT) cut an opening into each arepa and stuff them with whatever you want.  Eat and enjoy.

Arepas taste best the day of.  I haven’t tried freezing them but that’s an option too.

I also like to eat my arepas with an avocado sauce called guasacaca.  As mentioned before, guasacaca tastes especially yummy with shredded chicken.  Here’s my recipe.  It’s what has worked for me.  I don’t guarantee that it’s an authentic recipe:

Guasacaca

1 – 2 ripe avocados

Juice from 1 lime

1/2 red onion (or 3 stalks green onion)

1/2 cup coriander leaves

1 – 2 tsp garlic powder (or 1 to 2 cloves garlic)

1/3 cup olive oil

Many recipes call for parsley, vinegar, green peppers, chile/jalepeno peppers…I find it to be extraneous so I left these things out.  You can add them if you wish.

  1. Put the avocados in a food processor and process a little until chunky.  Then add all of the other ingredients until smooth.
  2. Stuff your guasacaca into an arepa and eat.  Leftover guasacaca can be stored in the fridge.
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Arepas with fried plantain, beans and avocado.

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Arepa with shredded chicken and guasacaca.

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Labels are for Tin Cans: Why I’m not Vegan (Per Se)

These are my confessions:

*Cue Usher Confessions video*

I remember when Usher came out with the video Confessions Part II, all of us (particularly his female fans) were wondering if these confessions were true and who these confessions were about.  Like, did he really cheat on his girlfriend and get a girl pregnant?  Is he talking about Chili (from TLC)?  Is that why they broke up?  Oh the questions…

My confession, however, is nowhere near as consequential and exciting as Usher’s, but it may be just as interesting.

Here goes: I’m not technically a “vegan.”  I really shouldn’t call myself that.  In fact, to be quite honest, I unabashedly eat meat from time to time.  I know – the shock, the horror…

Here’s the scoop.

About four years ago in 2011 I started on this vegan journey in a quest to get healthier and more acquainted with the food I was eating.  I also wanted to eat in a more ethical way – a way that reflected Biblical principles as I was taught and as I had interpreted them.

After a few years of eating like this, I was feeling pretty good about myself, but I wasn’t seeing the changes that I thought I would see.  I didn’t have boundless energy.  I didn’t lose weight.  I didn’t see any rapid change in hair length.  Moreover, I was working with a personal trainer at the time and I didn’t lose one pound.

As any health professional (and my body-building brother) will tell you, the most important component to weight loss is diet, not exercise.  So I started to take a look at my squeaky clean diet.  I saw a holistic nutritionist and a naturopathic doctor and a vegan dietician.  I also did some blood tests and got my thyroid checked (again) by my family physician and endocrinologist.

What was interesting to me was the advice that I received from the practitioners on the holistic health side.  They both advised me to eat meat (not just increase protein-sources like beans) because of my health history and body composition.  Veganism encourages the consumption of more carbohydrates to meet one’s dietary needs.  The thing is, my body was carbohydrate sensitive.

Of course I was appalled and indignant.  Meat?  Organic meats are expensive and I was still a student.  Plus, I wasn’t sure if it would make much of a difference because I’d only be eating chicken and fish on occasion, if anything (for religious reasons).  I was sure that I could continue living healthily on a vegan diet and I asked for alternatives.  They, reluctantly, complied.

Over time, however, I have started to more seriously consider their initial suggestions.  Being told to avoid gluten and unfermented soy (e.g. tofu) and having already eschewed dairy products didn’t leave me with a lot to eat by way of protein except for beans and tempeh, which started to get a little boring.  Trying to figure out what to eat each day was becoming a chore.  I also got a glimpse of my bloodwork.  My doctors would often remark that my red blood cells were irregular in size or too small.  It looked like I was showing signs of anemia or B12 deficiency.  Like I said, I went vegan to be “healthier” but I had to ask myself – what’s the use being vegan and still developing diabetes or any other disease?  Why mandate strict adherence to a label or dogma if it doesn’t work for me?

I figured that reintroducing meat was worth a try, at the very least.

Since conventional meats are typically filled with hormones and antibiotics and are not slaughtered humanely, I opted for organic meats – organic chicken breast from free range chickens raised on organic feeding.  I would only eat this on occasion, ‘cause this stuff was expensive.

I’m not gonna lie – I enjoyed the taste of meat again.  Especially oxtail.

I tried it and my weight stabilized.  Some people even said that I lost weight.  I no longer weigh myself though, so there you go.

What I’ve realized – and this is only my personal conclusion based on my own experiences and research – is that eating in moderation is what counts.  I’ve decided that the best “diet” for me is a plant-based one – not necessarily a vegan one – getting a majority of my fuel from plants and enjoying lean protein from organic sources on occasion.  Since organic meats are costly (did I mention they are expensive?), my budget has helped me in a good way – forcing me to eat meat as a treat (in essence, occasionally).  In some ways, you can still say that I’m “vegan” on most (or at least a couple) days of the week.

One of the most vexing questions I’ve faced over the past few years is not “what do I do with my life?!!” but rather “What should I eat?!!”  There are so many studies out there, many of which are conflicting.  Every day I discover that something is wrong with a food that I’ve been habitually consuming.  Wait – kale is no longer a superfood?  Agave nectar is like high fructose corn syrup?  Tofu is good?   Tofu is bad? Gluten is bad?  Gluten-free is a fad?  Coconut oil has mostly medium chain fatty acids which get metabolized differently in the liver?  Coconut oil still has long chain fatty acids which are not good for me?  What???  It’s all been so very confusing and frustrating.  I’ve found that the most practical way for me to eat is to listen to my body, eat what makes me feel good, don’t eat what doesn’t make me feel good, eat real food, forget about labels and do me.

I find that labels are unhelpful because they make people feel like they have to live within and adhere to the specifications of a category in order to be part of that group (and oh how we want desperately to belong to a group!).  The truth of the matter is people do not fit neatly and completely into categories.

For example, I wasn’t eating meat or dairy, but I ate honey, so I wasn’t technically vegan.  But, when asked, saying that I was “vegan” was easier than saying, “I don’t eat meat or dairy, but I eat honey, and I have saltfish and a piece of oxtail when I go home to my parents and I have a pair of leather boots which I owned before I decided to eat ethically.”  Labels work for tin cans because the contents in the can are static and constant.  Labelling people becomes a vexing exercise because we, unlike tin cans, are not static.  Our lives demand a certain fluidity – a fluidity not afforded by boxes and categories and labels like “vegan.”

We categorize things to understand them and learn about their attributes – what makes them different and what makes them alike, and this can be immensely helpful (especially in kindergarten).  However, this does not allow for the fluidity that is often the hallmark of a human life – or at least a way of eating.

I still think veganism is an ideal way to eat.  But it is primarily ideal if it works for you.  If it doesn’t, do something else.   Eat something else.  I know eating meat (even if it is organic and free-range on a happy farm) is still problematic, no matter what I do.  We don’t live in an ideal world.  We don’t live in Eden.  So my opinion is that we do the best we can within our means until we go to heaven and eat as God had originally intended.

I also say all this to say that you may, from time to time, see some, but only a few, recipes that are not vegan.  However, I assure you, most of the recipes on this blog will be vegan.  So don’t worry.  This blog is supposed to detail my life after oxtail.  While my byline may be a bit disingenuous, this is still very much my “life after oxtail” – whether vegan or…not so vegan.

I also wondered if this confession would make me lose followers.  Confessions do often come with risks.  But in deciding to live more authentically in a way that works for me, it’s a risk I’m willing to take.  I do hope you’ll stay, but if not, that’s okay too.

I also think we need to disabuse eating of its shaming language.  There should be no shame in eating, even if you are eating French fries (which are technically vegan, by the way).  I’ve been around some vegans (like on that cruise I did last year) who make you feel bad if you eat meat.  They have issues.  While I think eating can be a moral issue (what is killed, how it is killed, the fact that by eating it you are participating in the creature’s demise and benefitting from its slaughter, are you eating what is best for your body?  If not, is it a sin? etc.) issues of morality are personal, and therefore no one’s business but your own.

So what should you eat?  Ideally, you’d be vegan.  But if not, do what works for you. There’s no shame.  Eat in moderation.  I’m not a doctor or health professional, but like I mentioned in my post paleo vs. vegan, eating mostly plants is a good way to go.  I’ve heard good and bad stuff about soy.  I’ve read good and bad stuff about coconut oil.  I’ve read about the dangers of eating fruit in excess.  I’ve read about the perils of eating too much protein and its effects on your kidneys.  However, I’ve yet to read anything bad about eating vegetables – which seems to be the one good thing common to all of the diets out there.

So, to answer the ever pervasive question “What do I eat?”  Answer: I eat food.  I eat real food, most of it plant-based, as close to its source as possible, hopefully organic, when budget allows.  End of story.

“These are my confessions…”

The Porridge Series: Millet-Quinoa Almond Porridge with Crystallized Ginger (Vegan, Gluten-Free) and NEW BLOG

Hey!  Did you know I recently launched a new blog?  It can be found here.  I blog about legal issues, faith, and the many other things that I’m passionate about besides cooking.  I encourage you to check it out and follow me!

Here’s the next porridge in the “Porridge Series”:

1 cup quinoa

1 cup millet

2 tsp almond butter

1/2 tsp ginger powder

1/2 tsp cloves

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp allspice

1/2 cup date paste (5 dates + 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup water, blended)

pinch of salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

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  1. Cook quinoa and millet together in about 2 cups of water.  This should take 15 mins.
  2. Add all of the other ingredients.  Garnish with pieces of crystallized ginger.  Serve hot.

I also encourage you to take a look at my red lentil dahl oatmeal and apple pie oatmeal.

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